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Benoît Magimel and Ludivine Sagnier make up two sides of a love triangle in Claude Chabrol’s French Film.
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A Girl Cut in Two

Directed by Claude Chabrol

Written by Claude Chabrol and Cécile Maistre

Starring Ludivine Sagnier, Benoît Magimel, and François Berléand

Not Rated

Now Playing in Limited Release

At the center of Claude Chabrol’s A Girl Cut in Two is the kind of pulpy love triangle that the tabloids dream of: a nymphet-like TV weather-girl is caught between a nationally revered literary figure (decades older) and a volatile, dashing heir to a pharmaceutical company fortune. The conflict ends very, very badly.

The sordid affair is then thrust into a vicious media frenzy — ready to devour it whole — but the most surprising thing about Chabrol’s film is that, despite a heavy publicized legal trial, it is impossible to pass conclusive judgments on the characters. We are unable to moralize because throughout A Girl Cut in Two we are constantly deceived, manipulated, and shocked by how the characters can alternate between being charming and detestable. You come out of all of it feeling kind of dirty.

The weather-girl, Gabrielle (Ludivine Sagnier), enters the film pristine and childlike; she is constantly referred to as “angel” by her countless male admirers. Her subsequent corruption at the hands of a famous writer, Charles Saint-Denis (François Berléand), is unsettling because, rather than expressing fear or discomfort, it is clear that Gabrielle enjoys it — a lot. It becomes difficult to form any conclusions about Gabrielle — she seems at once perverse and innocent — and watching her for too long makes it impossible to maintain any kind of rigid moral perspective.

Saint-Denis and his rival Paul Gaudens (Benoît Magimel) are similarly evasive characters; they also happen to be terrifically acted. Saint-Denis chilling ability to manipulate Gabrielle is quickly apparent, but because of Berléand’s performance, he comes off as disarmingly brilliant anyway. Paul is easier to hate at first, he’s whiny and self-involved, but by the end you find yourself defending his rather questionable choices as well.

Almost in direct contrast to the film’s vague moral anchors, Chabrol’s direction is tight, with a fluid narrative and sharp visual style. This, if anything, heightens our displacement and confusion by the end, because it is so easy to get tangled up in the narrative.

We are jolted back, however, by the film’s unexpected conclusion. As the film closes we find Gabrielle in an vulnerable and humiliating position; the camera closes in on her face as she seems to reflect on being manipulated by pretty much every character in the movie. Chabrol’s most distinct talent is his ability to extract pleasure from such rampant cynicism.